Polar Bear Dip 2019 … almost balmy

By Donna McMillan

IT wasn’t quite “Let’s Go Surfing” weather on New Year’s Day. The Beach House did have Christmas trees decorating the waterfront in place of their summer palms.
This year, there was no ice. The air temperature was 2 C at 1 p.m. with a wind chill factor of –3C. Head Polar Bear Scotty MacDonald raked the beach and put up security tape, while his son Alexander wrote “The Water is Warm” in the sand to greet the charging dippers.


Above: Some of the estimated 150 total participants in the New Year’s Day 2019 Polar Bear Dip at Port Dover beach with air temperature at 2C.                                             Photo by Earl Hartlen


Compared to New Year’s Day 2018, when spectators and polar bear dippers alike were singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” this year’s event was almost balmy. Last year, polar bear dippers faced a wind chill factor of –22C and a large hole in the lake ice to provide a dipping pond.
A couple days before the event, Scotty told the Maple Leaf he was expecting a big turnout due to the open water and warmer temperatures. Yesterday, he estimated there were more than 150 dippers and a very, very large crowd of spectators. He also confirmed volunteers were collecting donations for Port Dover Minor Ball. The Head Polar Bear was also happy to see the Norfolk County washrooms open this year to give participants a heated place to change before and after the event.
Rob Eckensviller, 30, moved to Port Dover three years ago. He was participating in the annual Polar Bear Dip for the first time this year. He felt he couldn’t be considered a true Doverite unless he did the big chill dump in the lake. He was doing the plunge with Matt Long, 26, of Port Dover who was also participating for the first time on a dare; Zack Wamsley, 26, of Port Dover, who was doing it for a second time because he lost a bet once again; and R.J. Wamsley, 27, of Port Dover, who was simply going in to keep the rest company.
Stephen Broad, 60, of Woodstock was getting ready before the dip for his third dunk in the water on New Year’s Day in Port Dover. “I do it because I can and there will come a day when I can’t,” he told the Maple Leaf. He always wanted to do it and it has become a tradition. He and Susan Loney, also of Woodstock, were attending the Museum Levee afterwards.
Tracy Miles, 55, of Hamilton came out for her first swim “because I can face a challenge.” Ashley Brydges, 33, of Hamilton was out for her first swim as well because “I want to.” The two were doing warm up exercises with a group from Zee Float Wellness Centre in Hamilton on the beach pre-swim.
Jeff Bowman, 41, of Dundas, Jay Ziebarth, 41, of Hamilton and Ashley Orr, 39, of Hamilton were all doing the dip for the first time. “We do ice bathing once a week,” Ashley said. They are proponents of the Wim Hof Method, believing ice baths help with mental health, immunity, inflammation and more. The cold is really a warm friend for the group. They are part of the Zee Float Wellness Centre.
Will Smallacombe of Port Dover said after the dip “it was a fabulous time. Very refreshing. First rate. We should all start the New Year’s this way,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be in Port Dover.”
Out in the lake, six Port Dover tugs were in attendance. Kailary, Lef Dover, Bristow Mary, Peggy Jane, Attawanderon and Loganville were spectators and added safety insurance for the swim. Meika Matthews did the dip this year off the Loganville as a pink flamingo.
Glenn, Hannah and Liam Tweedie, along with Doug Ferguson were just a few of the many volunteers collecting donations at the Dip for Port Dover Minor Ball.
Scotty MacDonald reported the total amount collected for Minor Ball was $1050. “I had a great time,” he added.

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